Monday, April 25, 2011

Repelling Fear - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.20

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Meditation VII.20 - Repelling Fear - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

One thing only troubles me: that I should do something which the constitution of a human being does not allow, or in the way which it does not allow, or what it does not allow now.(1)


(1) Marcus of course is not making reference to the physical constitution. It is reason and not our physical constitution that makes us human, and our nature is circumscribed by reason. In Meditation II.16 (on p. 61 in the book) Marcus defines five abrogations of reason - the so-called five Stoic "commandments." In brief these are, (i) irritability, (ii) antisocial behavior, (iii) excess passion, (iv) dishonesty, and (v) thoughtlessness. These five breaches in reason alienate us from nature, condemning us to lives of isolation and despair, the Stoic version of Hell. These are the five ways in which a human being can act inhumanely.

The purpose of a meditation is to reflect on these and to remind us of what living according to nature requires of us. Ironically, becoming "troubled" is in itself also against the human constitution, because it means we are becoming anxious and irritable, and - as a consequence - unhappy, because no human being should ever feel troubled. When reason dominates, our troubles will be transformed into concerns, or cautions. This will occur because we have learned to acquire an attitude of indifference toward the fears that most people ordinarily direct toward physical worries. This fearlessness is what actually insulates the Stoic from anxiety and irritability, and enables the Stoic to respond more effectively to the physical slings and arrows of life. Human beings are not saints. We are drawn toward the demands of the physical constitution in many ways. Regulating those demands and acquiring fearlessness requires constant attention - and meditation.

Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.

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